In the first in our summer series taking an in-depth look at the Clemson football program and the season ahead, our panel breaks down the Tigers’ recruiting success and a possible factor in that down the road…
Clemson has a top-three rated class 2015 per 247Sports’ Composite - is this kind of success sustainable, finishing this class and future classes? Is there a breaking point in on-field success, especially against rival schools, that will affect that anytime soon?
O&W editor Kerry Capps: There are so many factors at play in recruiting that it's difficult to make specific down-the-road predictions. But my feeling is that Dabo and his staff have built, and are still refining, a self-sustaining recruiting system that has a very good chance of establishing an elite presence over a long period of time. The implementation of a more sophisticated, better organized and longer-range recruiting plan was one of the first things Swinney implemented when he got the coaching job on a permanent basis in 2009. If you recall, the coaching staff nailed down a small 2009 class - Dabo called it his 'dandy dozen' - and then focused the bulk of its time and resources in evaluating players and developing relationships for 2010 and 2011. That approach put Clemson ahead of the curve in responding to the rapidly accelerating recruiting timetable.
Swinney also developed a strong message - a brand even - about the so-called 'Clemson Family,' and he and his staff continue to beat that drum to great success. Add in the program's high-profile religious component, and the message that 'we'll take care of your son and makes sure he leaves here with a degree' that resonates so strongly with parents, and you begin to get a feel for how all-encompassing and finely-played Clemson's recruiting effort really is. Facilities and success on the field help immensely, as well, and it certainly doesn't hurt in recruiting the next group of elite skill players when the last four receivers who've gone on the NFL have signed contracts worth more than $30 million and two recent running backs - CJ Spiller and Andre Ellington - have been rated among the top 20 backs in the NFL.
So, I'd say that this year's recruiting success is more of a culmination than a flash in the pan. As long as the staff remains relatively stable, I would expect it to continue.
While success, or a lack of success, against high-profile rivals certainly plays a part in big-picture recruiting patterns, I think it's very rare that the outcome of a particular game determines which school a prospect chooses. There are just too many other factors involved. I recall asking Dabo last signing day about the relatively few numbers of evenly-contested, head-to-head, flip-a-coin recruiting battles between Clemson and South Carolina. He said that while it happens occasionally, most of the time he has a feeling from the get-go whether a prospect is a 'Clemson guy' or a 'Carolina guy.'
O&W contributor Marty Coleman: The Tigers have been on a roll lately and there's no reason to believe that any current commits will change their mind between now and February. That said, when I was 18 I changed my mind more than I changed my underwear so I tend not to count on a recruit until he signs and is on campus.
With Clemson's class being almost full this early I can see the Tigers getting passed by a couple of teams in the standings, but longer term I like what seems to be happening - recruiting not just South Carolina, but Georgia, Florida, North Carolina and even Virginia. The 2014 class included 9 from South Carolina, 6 from Georgia, 4 from North Carolina and only 2 from Florida (and one from Maryland).
Clemson is often mentioned as a team that heavily recruits Florida by national pundits because of super stars like C.J. Spiller and Sammy Watkins, but the truth is the bulk of the snaps come from the Carolinas and Georgia as my analysis of the 2012 season showed.
I'm a big believer in recruiting going in cycles and the Tigers are in a good cycle right now. The good cycles can be prolonged by winning, performing well on national TV, an explosive offense or even a nationally recognized tradition like running down the hill or even a paw on the side of your helmet. Those of us who attended Clemson like to think the place sells itself and wonder why anyone would ever choose another college, but the reality is there's a variety of reasons recruits go elsewhere and some are better off for it (and Clemson is sometimes better off, too).
South Carolina being a smaller state means sustained success at the current level is going to be more difficult for Clemson than say a Florida State or Texas just because of the numbers, but it can be done and we may be seeing the beginning of that right now and that's important because the Tigers are going to need to sustain this level of recruiting to keep pace with Florida State and Miami.
My opinion is the rivalry game with South Carolina means more to fans and alumni than it does recruits deciding on a school, because I don't get the sense that Clemson and South Carolina fight over that many recruits and when they do, the recruit typically favors one school or the other if he is in-state and for those out of state the rivalry results are not generally a deal breaker either way.
A bigger deal to recruits is putting players in the NFL. Do that consistently and they will come.
O&W beat writer Brandon Rink: Money talks – in terms of facilities, resources and staff in recruiting, and it’s no coincidence Clemson’s recruiting picked up first with the construction of the WestZone…and has really kicked into gear with the advent of NCAA-approved recruiting-centered staffers and renovations in the WestZone and locker room. Throw in a coaching staff that’s been largely intact for several years running and Swinney and co. are on absolute fire right now with plenty to sell.
While recruiting isn’t always directly tied to on-field results – Florida State and South Carolina are on the schedule each and every year – and they’re both hitting the trail hard.
The Seminoles haven’t had a non-top-10 class under Jimbo Fisher, stockpiling constellations of stars at each position.
After plucking some of the state’s best talent lately, South Carolina has branched out and isn’t far behind Clemson in its 2015 commit conquests (No. 6 with 18 commits).
No one expects the Tigers to go to FSU and win this year, but another home loss in 2015 will certainly effect the Sunshine State recruiting.
Clemson and South Carolina aren’t always sparring partners on the recruiting trail, but a sixth-straight loss and third-straight in the Valley could be enough to do some damage here.
So to answer the question(s), one is tied to the other. Swinney and co. are selling a “quest for best,” but without results in the right games, that becomes a tough sell to recruits down the road.
Tied to future recruiting, while Chad Morris is no longer the nation’s highest-paid coordinator by a few bucks, the success has been there and there’s that feeling each December he’ll jump for a head coaching job. Peer into your crystal ball, how long is the rest of his stay in TigerTown?
Rink: Each offseason comes with its own unique coaching carousel – some more active (2012) than others (2013). And here, after three seasons of rewriting Clemson and ACC offensive records, Chad Morris is still the Tigers’ OC.
But going into fifth season as a college coordinator, he’s only on his third starting quarterback (Cole Stoudt or/and Deshaun Watson). And while the Tiger offense has come a long ways over the last three seasons, its’ efficiency – especially against the tougher opponents on the schedule – leaves plenty of boxes to check off for the 45-year-old Texan.
Point being, we’re not expecting a major drop-off this year, which will keep Morris a hot-name come December, but with a five-star QB at the helm – and a host of talent around him, 2015 shapes up to be the Clemson’s best title-contention shot in recent memory.
Therefore, given no “dream job” targets him (like say, alma mater Texas A&M if Kevin Sumlin moves on) – Morris is around for at least this season and next.
Capps: I don't know if this makes any logical sense, but my gut feeling on Chad Morris is that the longer he stays, the less likely he is to leave - especially now that Deshaun Watson, his chosen one, is safe and secure on campus. I think it would take a pretty special job to tear Morris away from Clemson right now, especially as long as the Tigers sustain their offensive success. That kind of offer could happen any time, of course. But my feeling is that Morris is more focused on perfecting his grand offensive experiment than in becoming an even-higher-paid head coach.
His career-advancement track has been anything but orthodox, and I think that works in Clemson's favor. There's very little by-the-book about Chad Morris, so I'm beginning to think that most of our job-carousel assumptions just may not apply.
Coleman: Chad Morris is going to leave Clemson some day and when that happens I'll say, "Thank you for making Clemson football fun again and good luck." He's stayed long enough to earn my respect for not jumping at the first opportunity like a lot of coaches would have.
I thought he may have left after last season, simply because Boyd and Watkins were gone and it seemed like a good time to transition. He proved me wrong (whether it was his choice or a family related decision) and perhaps he wants to prove that it wasn't just Sammy and/or Tajh, but his system that has made the Clemson offense potent.
While Morris seems to be holding out for the "right opportunity" I do wonder if he'll end up taking a job similar to what Malzahn did at Arkansas State (and this where I thought he may have landed this season) in order to land a big time job down the road because I'm just not sure how many power conference teams teams that are good jobs are going to hire a coach with no head coaching experience.
Morris' time at Clemson is nearing an end. He'll be 46 in December and there's a fine line between being loyal and being labeled a career coordinator. Morris has clearly stated he wants to be a head coach and if the 2014 Clemson offense hums along post Boyd and Watkins this year he may be in demand more than ever and it could end up being the perfect time for Morris to take the next step.